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March 2006

Baltimore Noir

Regrets, I have a few. Telling Bill Crider that joke about his home town. Paying a physical trainer three months in advance, only to have him disappear after our third session. (Note to self, as Michael Keaton might have said into his tape recorder in Night Shift: What about a novel about a blocked crime writer who abandons the book at hand to track down the trainer who stiffed her? Naw, it will never work. Everyone knows there's no such thing as writer's block.) I've put my foot in my mouth. I've put my money on the wrong horse, literally and figuratively. I've put things on paper that I can't recant.

Right now, however, what I regret most is this paragraph from the introduction to Baltimore Noir (Akashic Press):

But then, to live in Baltimore -- Bulletmore, Murderland, according to one famous piece of graffiti -- is to be aware of murder; we have not enjoyed the sharp declines in homicide rates achieved by cities such as Boston and New York. We remain steadfastly in the top five, per capita, year in and year out. Statistically, two people died while I was working on this foreword.

In context, I think it works. You be the judge. Still, I'm uncomfortable with that breezy last line, given recent events. My former colleague Carl Schoettler was beaten viciously in a robbery attempt Feb. 25th. Read about it here and here. More than a third of the writers in Baltimore Noir have worked with Carl: Rafael Alvarez, Dan Fesperman, Lisa Respers France, Rob Hiaasen, Sujata Massey and David Simon. Not even a month ago, Rob told me that Carl, whose desk has long been in close proximity to his, was still power-napping in the afternoons, then snacking on bananas and cottage cheese. If you met Carl, or even read him, you'd be tempted to imitate his habits in hopes that you might enjoy the same physical and literary vigor for which he is famous.

The attack on Carl came in Baltimore's first homicide-free week of 2006. According to the March 1 edition of the City Paper, there have been 41 homicide victims in the city through Feb. 25th; all but two were African-American. If I didn't know Carl, I might be arguing that the newspaper is paying too much attention to one of its own, who happens to be white and middle-class. But I do know him, so please don't expect objectivity. And I also happen to think that this incident, given the details -- a relatively safe downtown neighborhood early on a Saturday evening, with so many witnesses nearby -- might be a canary in a coalmine, a reminder that the unofficial truce that keeps Baltimore's violence out of sight and out of mind is a tenuous one indeed.

Baltimore really is Smalltimore. The corner where Carl was attacked -- I stride by there in the evenings, on my way home from yoga. Given some of the facts that have come to light, another former Sun reporter can't help wondering if he knows the assailant. One of Carl's most recent bylines included a generous squib for Baltimore Noir. Not even three weeks ago, a group of former Evening Sun reporters sat in a local coffee house gleefully telling Schoettler stories. Ah well, that I don't regret that because it proves that we didn't need a tragedy to stoke our admiration for Carl. Think good thoughts, okay?

The Book Store

I'm not going to keep Gail Godwin's The Queen of the Underworld, much as I admired it. So some kind correspondent will receive a copy next month. This month, I've already chosen recipients for Kings of Infinite Space, Girl Sleuth and The Woman at the Washington Zoo. And although I said I would run a contest for the ARCs of No Good Deeds, I arbitrarily decided to give one to Lisa Salazar, a South Texas fan who planned her vacation around last year's tour, traveling more than 1,700 miles to attend one of my book signings. I still put together a quiz, but how could I not give Lisa an ARC? New rule: Anyone who travels more than 1,500 miles to attend a signing gets a free copy of next year's book.


"The Crack Cocaine Diet," which appears in The Cocaine Chronicles (another fine Akashic anthology), has been chosen for Best American Mystery Stories 2006, edited by Scott Turow and Otto Penzler. People wonder how much I know about the subject. Trust me on this. I'm a longtime expert on diets.

Baltimore Noirwill debut at the City Lit Festival at the Enoch Pratt Central Library, April 8th. I'll lead a panel of contributors in a discussion of how our fair city inspires us. Meanwhile, Publishers Weekly had this to say about the book:

"Mystery fans should relish this taste of Baltimore's seamier side, the eighth volume in Akashic's series showcasing dark tales of crime and place (Brooklyn Noir, etc.). Editor Lippman offers both a fine introduction and the lead story ("Easy as A-B-C"), which is one of the anthology's best. Half of the 16 contributors have connections to the Baltimore Sun, including David Simon of Homicide fame, whose "Stainless Steel" is a noir gem. Baltimore (aka "Bulletmore, Murderland") is a diverse city, and the stories reflect everything from its old row houses and suburban mansions to its beloved Orioles and harbor areas. There's dark humor in Dan Fesperman's "As Seen on TV," as well as in Tim Cockey's noir ghost story, "The Haunting of Slink Ridgely." Charlie Stella's mob story, "Ode to the O's," is brutally direct, while Ben Neihart's "Frog Cycle" offers a futuristic take on the high-tech industries springing up in place of factories. Other contributors include Marcia Talley, Jim Fusilli and Sujata Massey. (May)"

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